Digital PlanetAuthor: BBC World Service
19 Jun 2021

Digital Planet

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Technological and digital news from around the world.

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    Bitcoin’s environmental cost

    El Salvador has voted to recognise bitcoin as legal tender, and there is a great deal of interest globally in digital currencies that provide an alternative to cash. However mining bitcoin, the intensive computation needed to claim ownership of new Bitcoins, uses vast amounts of electricity – more than many countries produce. Currently most of this energy is supplied from traditional fossil fuel sources rather than renewables. Larisa Yarovaya from Southampton Business school discusses whether Bitcoin is really worth the environmental cost. Drones for surveying disaster areas with cameras have been around for a while , but now researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing, and Ergonomics have revealed a drone based system that can listen to the environment and pinpoint people who may be in distress following floods or earthquakes. Researcher Macarena Varela describes the drone and its microphone array. And lidar, the survey method which used lasers to reveal topographic detail is now finding a use in mapping Rio De Janero’s Favelas. These areas of informal housing developed in largely unplanned ways, but a wider understanding of their geography might help those who live there access essential services. The lidar survey has the advantage of being conducted without revealing the inhabitants personal information say MIT researchers Arianna Salazar Miranda and Claire Gorman. (Image: Getty Images) The programme is presented by Gareth Mitchell with expert commentary from Angelica Mari Studio Manager: Sue Maillot Producer: Julian Siddle

  • Posted on 15 Jun 2021

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    NFT? That’ll do nicely

    ‘Non-fungible tokens’ are a kind of digital asset that can be bought and sold. They have captured the imagination of many artists. Art pieces can be given a digital identity as an NFT. However, they have also been used to successfully sell viral videos. Musician Imogen Heap has released a number of works to be auctioned as NFTs Tim Shaw from Endlesss is working with artists who see NFTs as a useful way to market their work. And hyper-reality meets traditional art in the form of opera. A new immersive experience has been pioneered by London’s Royal Opera House, placing the audience firmly in the centre of the production as our reporter Hannah Fisher discovered. Which web browser do you use? Does it matter? Most browsers now rely on the same underlying technology, but Firefox is different. It's one of the favourites of computer engineers but has been losing market share. There are concerns that the growing sameness of browser technology could have a negative impact on the web. As Firefox relaunches we speak to their Senior Vice President Selena Deckelmann, (Image: First NFT. Credit ImogenHeapxEndlesss) The programme is presented by Gareth Mitchell with expert commentary from Bill Thompson. Studio Manager: Producer: Julian Siddle

  • Posted on 08 Jun 2021

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    WhatsApp v Indian government

    India has brought in stringent new laws that WhatsApp says will force it to break its end-to-end encryption. In a social media chat that’s been forwarded by multiple users, the new rules require the person who originated and shared that message, to be traced. And that’s a big problem for WhatsApp, a service that’s built itself around privacy. Gareth talks to Mishi Choudhary of the Software Freedom Law Centre about the regulations and the potential impact beyond India. After the new zombie heist film, Army of the Dead, had wrapped, the lead actor, Chris D’Elia, who played the part of an all-action helicopter pilot, was digitally removed from the movie, after he found himself the subject of serious allegations, which he denies. Edited in was Tig Notaro, another actor. Maxim Thompson explains how this remarkable cut and paste job was done. There’s a new way of driving a games controller, answering a phone or reading a text, using the inside of your ear. It works because many of us, without even realising it, can control a tiny muscle in our ear called the tensor timpani. Roland Pease has been trying out this prototype technology with Nick Gompertz, director of Earswitch (Image: An advertisement from WhatsApp seen in a newspaper at a stall in New Delhi. Credit: Sajjad Hussain /AFP via Getty Images) The programme is presented by Gareth Mitchell with expert commentary from Ghislaine Boddington. Studio Manager: Nigel Dix Producer: Deborah Cohen

  • Posted on 01 Jun 2021

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    The first African voice assistant

    Speech smart assistants currently do not support any African language, but now Mozilla’s Common Voice project is building a dataset for Kiswahili which is spoken by more than a 100 million people in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan. They have just been awarded almost $5m for the project. Remy the community lead at Common Voice Kinyarwanda and Chenai chair special adviser for Africa Innovation at the Mozilla Foundation tells us more about the work. Federated Learning As more of our data is processed through machine learning systems, Dr Nic Lane, of the Cambridge Computer Laboratory, explains a new way of processing and using our data without the need to send it through data centres. One solution to reduce the impact is federated learning – where data is processed on the edge, on your device, rather than being centralised. Not only does this reduce the environmental impact of computing, but it also has benefits for privacy and opens up opportunities for data sharing between companies. Electronic VR socks Reporter Claire Jordan has been investigating a novel approach to “walking” in a virtual reality. Existing ways are expensive and need considerable space to function, as well as having a less than satisfactory user experience. A new technology being developed by Professor Yusuke Matsuda of Toyohashi University of Technology in Japan could expand the reach of immersive VR movement to a much wider audience and deliver a better user experience than current solutions. The user wears electronic socks that create the feeling of walking in VR even though the user is sitting down. This could allow users to spend much longer in VR and also allow people with mobility issues to move around more freely, and possibly feel as though they are moving, in VR. The programme is presented by Gareth Mitchell with expert commentary from Bill Thompson. Producer: Ania Lichtarowicz (Image: Mozilla’s Common Voice project. Credit: Mozilla) (Image: Mozilla’s Common Voice project. Credit: Mozilla)

  • Posted on 25 May 2021

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    WhatsAppening with pandemic misinformation?

    More than 100 million people worldwide have interacted with Covid-19 misinformation since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a new study in PLOS One. We speak to Professor David Nemer, from the University of Virginia, to explain the impact of social media misinformation in Brazil – What’s App’s number one market. As he tells Gareth Mitchell, Covid myths and untruths are spread easily with no consequences to those behind the lies. Tracking your face online Dr Stephanie Hare joins live to discuss the implications of AI facial recognition site, PimEyes, affecting privacy and safety. The current lack of regulation allows such software to be used by anyone – and means we are likely to see more services like this emerge in the near future – but are there steps individuals can take to stop AIs recognising their face? Why PS5 is still out of stock The pandemic has had wide reaching impacts on the manufacture of computer chips, leading to a shortage of the component used in many devices. This means that 6 months since the release of the PS5 many consumers are still waiting for a device – but that is just one product – cars, mobile devices, and even the 5G roll out are also impacted, with their production delayed. (Image: Getty Images) The programme is presented by Gareth Mitchell with expert commentary from Ghislaine Boddington Studio Manager: Nigel Dix Producer: Ania Lichtarowicz

  • Posted on 18 May 2021

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